Renters aren’t the only ones frantically searching for homes in New York City — pets are falling victim to the city’s housing wars, too.
Animal Care Centers of NYC’s three shelters are seeing an increase in people surrendering their pets, largely due to housing costs, Katy Hansen, the director of marketing and communications, told MarketWatch.
And while Animal Care Centers of NYC has a program to help prevent that kind of outcome by covering veterinary care, behavioral training, or the cost of food, it’s another story when pet owners simply can’t find a place to live in a city where rents have surged by 24% in the past year.
“‘The increase in surrenders that we’re finding are from family-owned pets. They’ve owned these pets for years. They’re in a financial situation that they can’t get out of.’”
— Katy Hansen, the director of marketing and communications
In the first half of 2022, Hansen said, the number of owners surrendering their pets was up 25% compared to the same time last year. What’s more, people aren’t adopting as much, likely because they’re nervous about the cost, she added. With June’s inflation rate hitting a 41-year high of 9.1% on the year, it’s the most “consistently packed” year the organization has ever seen, she said.
“There have been a lot of stories out there saying, ‘Oh, the pandemic pets are being returned,’” Hansen said. “That’s not what we’re finding. The increase in surrenders that we’re finding are from family-owned pets. They’ve owned these pets for years. They’re in a financial situation that they can’t get out of.”
Meet Hami, a dog at an Animal Care Centers of NYC shelter that needs a home.
Credit: Animal Care Centers of NYC
It’s a problem that appears to be burdening scores of pet owners and lovers nationwide. A dog was recently abandoned in a park in Jacksonville, Fla., alongside a note explaining the owner couldn’t keep her “due to the raise in my rent,” according to a report from WTLV, a local NBC affiliate in Jacksonville. (The dog has since been adopted.)
Shelters in North Carolina, Indiana, and Missouri, have also reported fewer adoptions and more surrenders. Some even fear they’ll have to euthanize pets.
Monica Dangler, director of the Pima Animal Care Center, in Tucson, Ariz., is among those worried about euthanasia due to overcrowding. She told MarketWatch that while the shelter is actually taking in slightly fewer animals than it did in 2019, they’re still seeing “a lot” more dogs come in than they did before the pandemic. At the same time, people aren’t adopting as quickly.
The result: Dangler is up to her ears in dogs. On Friday, she said that every dog kennel in the shelter — both public and non-public — was full. About 10 additional dogs were in pop-up crates in a multi-purpose room, while approximately 40 dogs were being held in office spaces and meet-and-greet rooms.
“‘As long as we can each day get out more animals than are coming in, and we can get those animals out of the pop-up crates, then we’re going to be OK.’”
— Monica Dangler, director of the Pima Animal Care Center, in Tucson, Ariz.
The shelter receives a lot of support from community members, though, so the situation could be worse, she said. They recently received a donation from a local foundation to help cover boarding costs if they need more space. And to stave off more surrenders, the shelter is able to assist people who ask for help just to hold onto the pets they already have.
“We’re definitely in kind of a touch-and-go space right now,” Dangler said. “As long as we can each day get out more animals than are coming in, and we can get those animals out of the pop-up crates, then we’re going to be OK.”
Another issue: In many cities, the supply of affordable housing is tight, giving landlords the upper hand to make their own rules and be choosy about which tenants they accept. Many opt to not allow pets as they can damage properties.
“It would be great to get landlords to change their mind, I just don’t know how,” Hansen said.
To be sure, the ASPCA, a nonprofit animal advocacy group, noted in an email to MarketWatch that overall, national shelter data doesn’t show a big jump in animals winding up at shelters. Shelter intake can also fluctuate based on the time of the year.
Still, national data doesn’t account for regional differences, and the organization said it was aware some groups were experiencing a surge in intake, combined with a drop in adoptions.
“‘While we don’t have data on the number of folks who are forced to re-home their pet …more people will need to make this difficult decision as property owners increase rent fees.’”
— The Humane Society of the United States
The Humane Society of the United States added in an email to MarketWatch that “while we don’t have data on the number of folks who are forced to re-home their pet because of the lack of affordable, pet-friendly housing, we anticipate that more people will need to make this difficult decision as property owners increase rent fees.”
The cost of pet ownership itself may also be prohibiting people from owning or adopting pets. From May 2021 to May 2022, the price of pets and pet products surged 8.3%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Housing prices, meanwhile, grew 5.5% in the same timeframe, the largest annual increase since February 1991. And Hansen said the cost of veterinarian care — which can be a shock to household budgets in even the best of economic times — is increasing amid a shortage of practitioners.
Generally, the upfront costs of getting a cat are cheaper than those involved with getting a dog, as are the annual costs of feline ownership. A survey of more than 1,000 dog owners conducted by Rover.com
released in March, showed that costs can range widely, with pet owners spending between $480 to $3,470 per dog, per year. The majority of dog owners reported noticing a rise in pet-related costs due to inflation.
(Dangler’s shelter, for what it’s worth, typically does not have an adoption fee for its animals, and recently was able to offer adoptees a credit to put toward goods for their pet.)
For families that are struggling to hold onto their pets, the Humane Society of the United States recommends checking out an interactive map made by the nonprofit group Feeding Pets of the Homeless, which shows the locations of pet food and supplies, pet-friendly homeless shelters, and other resources for people in need. Hansen noted that pet owners in New York City can call 311 for a bounty of help.
“We get great, big grants from the ASPCA to help pets stay with their families,” Hansen said. “We have a lot to offer.”
If you must give up your animal, research how to properly surrender a pet by contacting your local shelter or rescue organization, or check to see if friends or family can temporarily foster your pet. It would be helpful, too, if people spayed or neutered their pets to ensure they can be placed with a new home as quickly as possible, Hansen said.
If you’re not a pet owner but want to help out overcrowded shelters, consider adopting or temporarily fostering, Hansen said. Even sharing pictures of pets that are available locally on Facebook
can be beneficial.